Skip to main content

Article – Reconnaissance, Raids and Sabotage: Employment of Reconnaisance in Future Land Warfare

As the most adaptable, robust and reliable Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) source of the battalion commander, Reconnaissance and Sniper Platoon (RS PL) has the primary mission of providing information on the enemy and battlespace environment in order to support infantry operations. Primarily conducted Forward of the Forward Edge of the Battlespace Area (FOFEBA), these operations have a critical shaping effect on the entirety of the battlespace. The actions of those force elements operating well forward of any friendly positions, and quite often behind those of the enemy, will continue to have a disproportionate effect to what can be achieved by an element from the fighting echelon of the same size. This disproportionate effect will only be multiplied with the implementation of Plan KEOGH.

This paper will argue that RS PL must adapt to the significant firepower and mobility increase it will receive in Plan KEOGH, and that infantry reconnaissance will be uniquely placed to strike at fleeting targets of operational importance. Furthermore, it will argue that, in the same way that snipers are employed to target High Value and High Payoff Targets (HVT/HPT) with precision fires, reconnaissance elements should be well versed in conducting raids, ambushes and sabotage missions against HVT/HPT where precision fires from snipers are insufficient or inappropriate.

This will be explored by looking at the potential implications of Plan KEOGH for RS PL, as well as RS missions in our primary operating environment.

Limited Offensive Operations and Plan KEOGH

The implementation of Plan KEOGH will see infantry battalions within the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) transformed to mechanised or mounted battalions. This has significant implications for the employment of reconnaissance elements in the battlespace, and provides numerous opportunities and challenges for RS PL. Notably, Plan KEOGH proposes a huge increase in the mobility, protection and firepower available to RS PL.

It is unclear at what distance reconnaissance will be required to occur in the future, but it is almost certain to increase. This will potentially result in a capability gap, which unless filled by RS PL, will mean that the commander will be unable to prosecute opportune targets identified by his ISR collection sources FOFEBA.

No force, outside of Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) is better trained or equipped for this type of task. At the tactical level, the battalion has its nine rifle platoons with which to close with and destroy the enemy; however, these platoons—while the obvious force of choice for manoeuvre in the close fight—will often be unable to strike at fleeting targets of opportunity identified by RS PL, especially given that the range between the reconnaissance element and the fighting echelon is likely to increase in the future. Furthermore, while Cavalry elements have an ability to apply direct fire onto targets if required, they lack the capacity to conduct dismounted operations to the same degree as infantry reconnaissance. This fundamentally inhibits Cavalry’s ability to fill the capability requirement of targeting HVT/HPT at the operational level.

The increase in capability which Plan KEOGH provides, when paired with the outstanding standard of fieldcraft, patrolling and soldiering skills that is the hallmark of reconnaissance platoon, means that RS PL will be uniquely placed to provide a limited offensive capability to the battlegroup commander. In addition to its primary mission of providing information on the enemy and battlespace environment, RS PL should be tasked with striking at fleeting targets of opportunity which may have operational impact on the battlespace. In the same way that snipers are employed to target HVT/HPT with precision fires, reconnaissance elements should be well versed in conducting raids, ambushes and sabotage missions against HVT/HPT where precision fires from snipers are insufficient or inappropriate.

This skillset becomes even more relevant when one considers the theatres that the Australian Army may be deployed to in the near future. The Defence White Paper suggests that the importance of the Indo-Pacific to Australian security cannot be overstated and that the Australian Army must be prepared to conduct operations in that region across the spectrum of conflict. Operating within the indo-pacific will place an extreme emphasis on dismounted operations, due to the highly complex terrain found within the region. As a result, the capacity of RS PL to provide an agile, clandestine force that is able to conduct limited offensive operations well forward of the battlegroup’s fighting echelons is critical.

Conclusion

As the most adaptable, robust and reliable ISR source available to the battalion, RS PL has the primary mission of providing information on the enemy and battlespace environment in order to support infantry operations. This is, and should remain, the most important function of RS PL.

However, with the implementation of Plan KEOGH, as well as the environments that the Australian Army may find itself employed within in the near future, RS PL has the capacity to provide a disproportionate impact on the battlespace by pairing its ability to gather information on the enemy with the ability to prosecute fleeting targets of operational worth. The ability of RS PL to provide an agile, clandestine force with the training and equipment to strike the enemy’s most important assets where he’s the most vulnerable is essential, both now and in the future.


About the author: James Lewis is an infantry officer posted to the First Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.

4 thoughts on “Article – Reconnaissance, Raids and Sabotage: Employment of Reconnaisance in Future Land Warfare

  1. This is a good read and an interesting perspective on a topic that has been debated many times over the years.
    Expanding the roll of tactical level RSS assets has been a highly emotional and emotive one over my career.

    Noting that the foundations for the existence of these Force Elements is to answer the CCIRs of the BN Commander the FE have often been overlooked WRT the capabilities they could bring to the battle space with minor investment in up-skilling the FEs.

    This is not a new concept. During the Vietnam War the Americans had Long Range Patrols (LRP). These aren’t to be confused with Long Range Recon Patrols (LRRP). LRPs where and information collection organisation that achieved this requirement through planed Ambushing in the backyard of the Enemy. They also achieved the second order effect of degradation of the Enemy’s moral. The other method used was stand off attack using joint assets such as ground attack aircraft. The personnel who served in the LRP units were not Special Forces. They were more analogous to the Rangers of the 80s.

    RS PL FEs already posses the majority of the required skills to expand their roll, specifically communication skills and capabilities.

    Expanding the roll and task profile of these FEs should always be based on the use of stand off when exploiting a kinetic effect on a target of opportunity. Small DETs and PTLs are often isolated and lightly armed and equipped. Due to this fact engagement in a close combat situation with hostile elements should always be a last resort and alway avoided if possible.

    There only two ares that need attention to achieve what the author has articulated; FE intrinsic JFO/JTAC capabilities and enhanced force projection and recovery capabilities.

    Both can be heavily reliant on existing training supported by existing simulation capabilities the ADF/Army currently has. In fact most of our simulation capabilities are grossly under-utilised in the raise, train and sustain of capability development.

    Army and the Battalions could easily achieve this task profile expansion with a little investment in our existing capabilities held at the tactical level.

  2. Good read James,

    I think you really have identified an opportunity with mounting RS Platoon and the depth and tempo they will be able to operate (without extensive RW or vehicle support dismounted RS FE often become one shot capabilities in manoeuvre operations)

    The only risk I would like to raise is the implications of giving RS FE heavier weapons. If you give them these tools they may be tempted to use them.

    This may sound counterintuitive but their primary purpose must remain ISR. The situational awareness of a forward deployed junior leader is very focussed and what ever decision they make must be orchestrated at the BG and higher level, otherwise they risk blowing a hole in the higher ISR plan for a potentially minimal or misunderstood tactical advantage. Dismounted ISR is limited and if you attack the enemy you show your hand, potentially invalidating the information previously gathered.

    This may see to go against mission command but I think it emphasises the increased training you talk about. It cannot just be about weapon and vehicle proficiency but also building up our junior leaders to make sound decisions in conditions of uncertainty and not give in to the temptation to use the hammer they will soon carry if the problem isn’t a nail.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. Alistair,

    Great comments on this article. A key question for commanders at all levels with their reconnaissance forces is often what is the engagement criteria. In many circumstances, there are none, except self-defence and the recon elements are expected to either “go to ground” and allow an advancing enemy to by-pass or only use Offensive Support when authorised.

    Utilising Recon assets for such missions can undoubtedly take them out of the ISR fight; however, at times the recon assets will have access to an enemy critical vulnerability (CV) that may otherwise be unachievable. If this CV is such that it facilitates disruption of the enemies centre of gravity, then a strong argument exists that it is prudent to seize that opportunity. Alistair correctly points out that the Army Rangers did this in Vietnam with great effect.

    Whilst it would require a moderate increase in training to an already busy training schedule (There is never enough time!), these skills could be achieved by at the unit level without much impost as voiced by Alistair. By doing so, the commander is given more options for kinetic effect, which is never a bad thing.

  4. “Furthermore, while Cavalry elements have an ability to apply direct fire onto targets if required, they lack the capacity to conduct dismounted operations to the same degree as infantry reconnaissance. This fundamentally inhibits Cavalry’s ability to fill the capability requirement of targeting HVT/HPT at the operational level.”

    Thee two sentences seem to undermine the entire argument being proposed.

    Firstly, if the infantry reconnaissance is dismounted, they will struggle to keep up with a Mech or Motorised force – so what actual recon would they be doing? Furthermore, their reach would be very short, and I question how many operational level HVT/HPT they would find. For the infantry reconnaissance to keep up – they need to be mounted in some form.

    Secondly, the Cavalry element has significantly more options in dealing with HPT/HVT that they find. Their range of weaponry is greater; their communications suite is greater and their range is greater. Other than physically clearing post-strike (and are you suggesting that RAInf reconnaissance elements will be doing this?), the Cavalry (or mounted in CRV / IFV infantry element) will have better and more options.

    I get the view that operations in the region will demand dismounted forces, but the Australian and American military have consistently demonstrated an ability to operate armour in this region, and likely opposition forces all contain armour. While the role of dismounted reconnaissance is important, and RAInf needs to be able to fight mounted or dismounted, I think this article attempts to stir animosity between two distinct elements that have different jobs. It also underestimates the operational level reconnaissance that an ACR brings to the table, especially in a Boxer in 2025.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *


Disclaimer
The Cove is a professional development site for the Australian Profession of Arms. The views expressed within individual blog posts and videos are those of the author, and do not reflect any official position or that of the author's employers' - see more here. Any concerns regarding this blog post, video or resource should be directed in the first instance to hello@cove.org.au.